In the late 90s, BET had a wide variety of original programming that set it aside from MTV and VH1. Programs like Rap City, Cita’s World and Hits! From the Street gave the network personality outside of just being the music channel for hip hop and R&B. Still, BET lagged behind MTV in ratings during the primetime/evening slot. MTV had a juggernaut in Total Request Live and BET’s biggest program at the time, Rap City, went off shortly before TRL started.
Then came September 11, 2000, when at the corner of East 106th Street and Park Avenue a legendary TV series was born.
Not only did 106 and Park give BET something to help them compete in the evening timeslot, it gave rap and R&B artists a platform. During this time, Cash Money wasn’t getting a call to hang with Carson Daily in Times Square, but 106 gave them the opportunity to do that.
If you weren’t around for this era, rap wasn’t as heavily accepted in the mainstream as it is now. Not even close really. While you had some rap/radio hits on TRL, they were mainly Pop/Top 40 chart toppers. “Hey Ya” by OutKast or “Yeah” by Usher were two examples of urban artists “crossing over”, but those both happened after 106 hit the scene. The two shows followed similar premises and formats: video jockeys (or VJs) would count down the top 10 songs as voted by the fans of their respective programs. You could call in a number to vote or go online to BET’s website and cast your vote there.
Where they differed was that 106 regularly featured throwback videos entitled “Ol’ School Joint of the Day” that served as tributes to eras of hip hop and R&B that had gone by. Anything from Biz Markie to Anita Baker was on the table, and allowed any parents that may have been watching with their teenagers something they may have been more familiar with. Another bend to 106 were the “New Joints of the Day”, which were usually premiered by the artist they were interviewing, or just showcased in the middle of the countdown as a new possible entry.
But perhaps the biggest difference between TRL and 106 and Park was the “Freestyle Friday” staple. Freestyle Friday was exactly what it said on the tin: two emcees would have the chance to battle each other in two (originally one) 30 second rounds on live (delayed) television in front of 3 judges without cursing or using sexually suggestive lyrics. The judges would be members of the hip-hop or entertainment community, and usually the guest that day (if there was one that particular Friday). The winner of the competition would be able to compete the following week and up to 7 times total before “retiring” as a champion. 106 and Park’s first ever freestyle Friday champion, Postaboy, was even offered a record deal and appeared on a Bel Biv Devoe track, and their second champion was MC Jin who eventually went on sign a record deal with the Ruff Ryders as well as appear in 2 Fast 2 Furious.
But what REALLY made 106 and Park tick were their personalities. AJ and Free became the unofficial faces of BET as 106’s popularity continued to grow, especially as they got more comfortable with interviewing the artists they got the chance to meet. The show’s signature couches created a level of comfort for the artists and celebrities and made you at home feel like you were right there with them. The duo got the chance to interview up and comers in entertainment like Eminem, Kanye West, Destiny’s Child and Alicia Keys as well as veterans like Denzel Washington and Maxwell, and even the King of Pop Michael Jackson.
The show is largely responsible for pushing Bow Wow’s career, as he became “Mr. 106 and Park” due to his videos always claiming the top spot on the countdown within days of their debut. He was one of the first artists to have their music video effectively “retired” from the countdown after 65 days (13 weeks). It also helped continue Aaliyah’s career into the new millennium, even being the last program to interview her before her tragic passing in 2001.
In the early 2000s, it became a ritual to come home from school, finish all your homework, head outside for a minute and then come back in at 6pm to watch 106 and Park. To watch the same 15-20 videos rotate on the countdown over the course of a few weeks, hoping that the artist from where you were from would make it on.
I remember when “Never Scared” finally reached #1, and it seemed like right after that T.I.’s career took off. I went from listening to “I’m Serious” and the “In Da Streets” mixtape series to seeing him make it to the big time. Bonecrusher kept taking his shirt off after every performance, Killer Mike was getting respect even though everyone overlooked his incredible album. All these things were elements that fed into the glory of this show.
The tenure of 106’s original hosts came to a seemingly abrupt end on July 28th, 2005. After Free had been on and off the show and effectively missing for weeks on end due to (unknown to the public at the time) contract disputes, AJ gave a tearful goodbye to “the livest audience on television” announcing that it would be his last appearance on the show. Free stated her goodbyes via telephone and from there a new era would begin.
Big Tigga and Julissa would continue to hold down the fort for a year before Terrence and Rocsi came on board. The show continued a strong run for another few years before the two of them left in 2012 and were replaced by Bow Wow and three other co-hosts who only lasted a few months before being dumped. By then it was becoming clear that the show no longer had a place in this day and age, music video countdowns weren’t something that was needed. Especially in an era where one can get instant access to music videos via the internet and youtube. The TV wasn’t the only place to catch visuals from your favorite artist, especially the demographic that the show was aimed at: the teenagers and to an extent, young adults and college students.
Regardless of which era you grew up in, AJ and Free laid the foundation for what was a marquee program that is still reminisced by its former viewers to this day. 18 years ago legends were born, and as hard as it is to find footage of old 106 and Park clips, we still have fond memories of it.
What are some of your favorite 106 and Park moments? Comment below or let us know via twitter @TheKWCBlog.